I've left my reading lamp on the lowest setting, with the flexible neck straight so that the lampshade directs a soft light at the ceiling. I'm leaning my back against a pile of pillows looking longingly at the locked doors of the wardrobe. As soon as the social worker left I'd slipped the key out of my sock and shut myself in for the night, but he came back into my room an hour later and caught me slumped like a dead dog (his words) on top of a pile of my old clothes. After I got out he'd made me comfortable on my bed and took the key with him so I couldn't get back in, but he didn't know about the spare.
At first I went in there only occasionally but then it got more and more frequent until I started spending whole nights in there. Sometimes I didn't want to come out in the mornings but they noticed when I didn't turn up for breakfast so I had to be strong with myself. If I had things my way I'd spend the whole day in my wardrobe, I like the darkness, it makes me feel safe.
They say I have 'Photophobia' which is just a fancy term for wanting to stay in the dark. And they say it's because something traumatic happened to make me frightened of daylight (but I can't see it myself, haha!) The others say I'm strange but I don't think I am, I think they're a bit odd being into all that singing and dancing stuff that's supposed to make it easier for them to 'integrate' back into society. Honestly, as if it's going to make any difference being able to chant and prance around when you're on the outside.
I want to be contained, and I want it to be dark. I don't want all that noise and all those people around me all the time, it makes me edgy. If you looked inside my wardrobe you wouldn't see coats or shirts hanging up, just a load of cushions and blankets. When I get in I pull the doors shut with a little nail I've pressed into the wood and then I hang a sheet down over the crack so no light gets in. I feel all right when I'm in there, that must sound pretty stupid to you but I don't get bored or anything. I sit for hours just thinking about things. My psychiatrist knows I go in there and he's trying to help me by making me talk about my childhood but I don't think I'll ever stop doing it.
I watched this program on the telly once where a man got his wife to lock him up in the cupboard under the staircase. He was in that lovely darkness for hours until she made him beg to be let out, when she opened the door he was only wearing his underpants and he had this funny strap thing tied round his face. I don't get that, but it's good to know he liked being in the dark. There must be loads of us out there somewhere. Or maybe not.
The three of us moved to a small flat when my dad died. I hated it because it smelled damp and stale. We used to live in an end terrace, turn of the century semi-detached place on the outskirts of town where people would say hello to you in the street. But we moved because mum couldn't afford the mortgage on her own.
One afternoon after school my sister Kylie told me that mum had died. I think I was about six but I can't be sure. I remember the time well. She'd been searching in her case for something to make me happy so the bad news wouldn't upset me too much, but even the little bag of toffees was a stretch. I can recall every word she said, it was like a narrative, all crystal clear up until the moment she broke the news. I replay the moment in my mind and it never varies. I remember every expression, every inflection in her voice and the relaxed, friendly way in which she tried to tone down the significance of the information. Even at that tender age I could detect a casualness in her words that belied her anxiety.
"We need to stick together now," I remember her saying. "Which means I have to go out to work so that we can stay here."
Everything after that bombshell comes back to me from time to time, it's like I'm being punished just for feeling sad. I can recall with clarity how I felt. She tucked me up in bed and kissed my forehead, the alarm clock showed that it was ten past twelve and she'd drawn the blinds so the room was completely dark. And then she told me how important it was that I never left the room when she wasn't there because the sunlight would burn my skin and make me sick. Her voice was gentle and low.
"I don't want to have to keep fussing over you if you get ill." She said.
So when she left I stayed in there all day, too frightened to pull the blind up in case the sun burnt me to a crisp. That was the first day. I didn't want to go anywhere after that and for the next two weeks I became so scared of the sunshine I kept both rooms dark. Kylie never said anything about it though, I think knowing how fragile I'd become gave her an assurance that I wouldn't cause any problems. She used to worry a great deal about things, I'm sure her head was jumbled up from all the pills she swallowed. I think she got that from mum. I never went back to school because she told the headmaster that we were going to move away. That's how messed up she was.
Kylie came home from work at lunchtime every day and after she'd fixed my lunch (always a sandwich with cheese and salad cream) she went to work in the local burger joint next to the newsagent at the end of the street. On Thursdays she'd have the afternoon off but I still never really saw her much until the end of the evening when she'd bring her boyfriend home with her. They made me sit in the living room so they could go to bed together, although I don't know why they thought I didn't understand what was going on. I could hear giggling and sighing for an hour or so until they emerged from the bedroom all flushed, she'd be smoothing down her skirt and straightening her hair while he tucked his shirt-tails into his trousers. She was crazy about that bloke, as if she wasn't crazy enough already, it was almost as if she was making up for all the time she had to look after mum.
I was glad to get out of the living room though because the curtains weren't thick enough to stop the glare from the streetlamps coming through. I know, it's stupid isn't it? But by then I was scared that anything brighter than the light from the telly would make me ill so I did everything I could to stay in the dark.
On the few occasions that Kylie left me alone with her boyfriend I pretended I was suffering from a migraine so that I wouldn't have to talk to him. He was an awful chap, skinny with a twitchy eyelid. His hair was jet black and greasy, sometimes he tied it into a stupid bun at the back. His skin was riddled with spots, not the kind that last for a few days and then go away, these were huge great things full of pus that would crop up in the corner of his mouth or under his nose. He always wore a dirty denim jacket that stank of tobacco and his trousers looked like they were full of ferrets. I hated him because he had stolen my sister.
One evening Kylie had gone out to get a bottle of wine from the shop and he was sitting on the couch drinking from a can of beer and picking his nose. After a while I decided to be brave and come out of my dark bedroom. He didn't even look at me, he just kept staring at the telly.
"Well if it isn't the little Pit-pony come out of his cave," he said as I walked into the living room.
I sat down on the carpet beside the couch so I could see the television, but not him. As soon as I'd got myself settled he launched himself out of his seat and pulled the blinds up. Sunlight filled the room and my eyes felt as if they were being pierced by a dozen needles. He thought it was so funny.
Another time when Kylie had gone to the lavatory he pinned me to the floor and shone a torch directly into my eyes. I screamed until my sister came running back into the room but by then he'd sat down, pretending nothing had happened. It's no wonder I went mad.
One day my sister came into my room and told me she would be going out for the night and that she might not be back until later the next day. She said I'd be well looked after but I knew what she meant. Sure enough he turned up just as Kylie was leaving and sat himself down on the couch. I could tell it was going to be a tough evening because he'd stacked eight cans of lager on the coffee table and he had a horrible smirk on his face.
"What shall we do tonight then Pit-pony?" He said.
I just stared at the telly hoping he would leave me alone until I went to bed, but I thought I could probably feign a migraine if things went belly-up.
He leant forward and told me to come closer.
"It's a lovely sunny evening outside," he joked.
I feigned a migraine.
He turned the volume down on the telly and there was silence as he strained forward and gulped from a beer can.
"Let's go for a little walk," he said.
"I'd rather not, I'm allergic to the sunshine," I answered.
His held his face a couple of inches from mine and smiled. I could smell alcohol and a faint whiff of tobacco on his breath. His chin was peppered with short grey hairs and his cheeks were dotted with little eruptions of bright pink skin where the next fresh crop of spots was ripening. He narrowed his eyes and drew breath.
"We're going to take a little trip together, in the sunshine."
He licked his lips and ruffled my hair, I could detect a slight tremble in his voice and he seemed suddenly elated.
"Just you and me Pit-pony, just you and me." he laughed.
He took his hand off my head and sat himself up straight on the couch. I managed to transform my relief into a look of neutrality, betrayed most likely by a trembling in my lower lip as I returned his stare.
"I have an awful headache, I think I might just go to my bed," I said.
In a sudden surge of agitation he grabbed my arms and pulled me towards him.
"We're going out!" he shouted.
As he pulled me to my feet his leg knocked the coffee table and an empty beer can rolled on to the carpet. His eyelid was twitching like crazy now and his breath was heavy with the thrill of it all. He kept saying the same thing over and over.
"Yes Pit-pony, sunshine, yes Pit-pony, sunshine."
He was completely manic now, his hands were shaking and his whole face had turned a bright shade of red. I hoped to God his spotty head wouldn't explode.
I allowed him to push me towards the door, there was no point in struggling and I figured my chance would come when we were in the hallway. But his grip on my arm was too strong for me to consider an escape so I prepared myself for the ordeal ahead.
And that's all I can remember. I have no recollection of anything else that happened after we'd left the room, whatever it was that had been so upsetting stayed locked up somewhere deep inside me. Kylie came home later the next day and found me hiding under the bed wrapped from head to foot in a blanket. I cried a lot for a while but then everything went blank. I bit her hand when she tried to get me out.
And so here I am, in this 'establishment'. I've no idea how long it's been because there are no clocks in here. They reckon we should try to live in the present rather than think about the past or future. No regret, no fear, they say. I've no idea what that means.
There's a bed and a single grey blanket in my room, little else apart from some shelves with a few books and a small table that's covered with cup stains. Someone has carved the letters 'A' and 'G' on one of the legs. They let me have a small black and white television after three months so at least I can watch my cartoons. I'm shocked at how quickly I've adapted to the institution. I've learned how important it is to build my day around little highlights. A cup of tea with three sugars at seven thirty, (something that prompts me to salivate from seven). The food smells of death and madness but I still force myself to look forwards to lunch and dinner.
I'm under the charge of a psychiatrist called Robinson who has a long beard and always smells of garlic. He believes in an active intervention in his patients lives. He says he wants to move me back into the world that existed before I suffered my 'episode'. In practice it means I'm trying lots of different drugs. Blue pills, red pills, little pills, long pills, Robinson calls them 'medication'. He talks to me every week and asks me how I feel about things like day and night, or light and dark. He bought me a 'Nite-Lite' once and told me to turn it on for a few minutes each day. He said it would give me confidence when I eventually felt able to go out into the sunshine. When he'd gone I opened my door a tiny bit and hurled it out across the floor. We never mentioned it again.
There are other people here that do craft, or sing, or dance. I've been told I'm not ready for that yet, at least not until I feel comfortable leaving my room. I still feel quite detached from what's going on around me most of the time.
I'll be honest, I'm a lot happier in the wardrobe than I am anywhere else, but at least I try to sleep in the bed sometimes which is a step forwards. The thought of having to move to a room with a window is too much to bear. Maybe I'll give it a bit more time.